Can Tim Berners-Lee Save the Web?

Tim Berners-Less invented the web. He did not make gazillions of dollars for doing so. Instead, he thought it was the right thing to do. Tim Berners’Lee is an idealist and a guy who we all should thank.

Indeed, making the web was the right thing to do. It has unleashed a new era. Not just a flow of information but a torrent. And that torrent has had amazing effects.

Sadly, not all of them are positive. And Tim Berners-Lee knows that. He is especially concerned with two negative effects. The first is the concentration of power that certain platforms have achieved by leveraging the flow of data. Google, Facebook and so on. These platforms control your data. And now Trump et al have changed the law to enable them to use your data however they want. In other words, you are not as empowered by the web as you might think.

The second problem is the abuse of web free flow of information. These abuses include manipulation through diffusion of spin and falsehoods as well as outright fraud. This has become more apparent over the last year with Russian hacking into the US political process.

Tim Berners’Lee thinks we should do something about these issues. Fortunately, Tim Berners’Lee is in a position to recommend what it is we need to do.

The first and perhaps most important item on the agenda – We need to recapture the decentralized aspect of web data flow by giving back control of data to users. We need to take back control of our data. Here is a thought from Tim

The idea that people will eventually migrate from today’s tech giants to more decentralized systems may seem like a stretch. But last year at the Decentralized Web Summit in San Francisco, Berners-Lee pointed out that in the early days of the internet, many people thought proprietary online services like America Online, Compuserve, and Prodigy—all of which sought to tame the chaos of the web and the open internet—would dominate the mainstream market. Eventually the web won out. “You can make the walled garden very very sweet,” he said at the event. “But the jungle outside is always more appealing in the long term.”

BTW, Tim is not alone in thinking this way.  And I suspect that this idea will gain traction.  It will be one of the biggest stories of the next decade.

The second thing we need to do is embrace stewardship of web data flow. Why? The simple reality underlying web information flow is the incentives that are in place to generate web traffic. More traffic means more power. Not just money, though that is part of the game. Traffic gives power over what we all believe to be important and true. So the incentives to gain traffic can easily trump incentives to add value.  Stewardship of web data flow is shorthand for finding different incentives to add value and reduce the impact of that manipulation.

How to do that? Tim points to Wikipedia as an example of high-level curation.  Wikipedia does not work because of its amazing technology. It works because of the way people interact with it.  We need more of that type of interaction. Again, we don’t yet know how to make this the norm across platforms. Our best hope is that we can better match incentives to add information flow with the value added that the flow offers (not just power for traffic). that may require better ways to pay for content generation using micro-payment systems via crypto-currencies.

The above are meta issues. Big stuff. And I think some of the most important stuff that needs to be discussed.

What do you think?

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